Firesmarting program raises questions

The city wants the Firesmart program improved. Last week, council approved $10,000 of in-kind services to research the best ways to thin forested areas around the city that serve as kindling for full-blown forest fires.

The city wants the Firesmart program improved.

Last week, council approved $10,000 of in-kind services to research the best ways to thin forested areas around the city that serve as kindling for full-blown forest fires.

“We’re looking at what ways, which methods of Firesmarting, hand or mechanical, will provide the best results,” said fire Chief Clive Sparks.

Firesmarting involves cutting down trees that will act as fuel for a fire. The city has, in the past, Firesmarted areas such as Porter Creek, Hillcrest and Riverdale.

Various methods of Firesmarting have been tried, said Sparks, and they all cost the city and territory a lot of money.

“Firesmarting and abatement can be quite expensive. (It’s about) $5,000 to $6,000 per hectare for treatment,” he said.

With the perimeter of the city slightly more than 90 kilometres in size, the cost of Firesmarting the city could be astronomical.

The city began studying fuel management of wooded areas in Whitehorse 10 years ago and has already put forward three major studies on the issue.

The territory is supplementing this latest research effort, sinking $50,000 into it. Ottawa is kicking in another $245,000 through its Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development fund.

“All the studies make recommendations towards the management of fuel in forested areas,” said Sparks.

It’s going to focus on the methods and the season in which the Firesmart work is being performed, said Sparks.

“Work is normally done using hand tools and has a high labour content,” said Sparks. “It’s usually carried out in the winter months, which means it’s being done with considerable amounts of snow on the ground which makes it hard to work.”

Questions about the effectiveness of Firesmarting were raised at the previous week’s council meeting.

“I’ve heard that in the short term, after a Firesmart program has gone through a specific area, the fire hazard actually increases because of the small branches and the residue that’s left over,” said Councillor Doug Graham.

The concern is that the chance of fire is increased by creating an open swath of land that channels oxygen into a fire, further feeding it.

“There is an increase in the amount of fuel on the forest floor in the form of fine branches, but part of what the Firesmart program does is stop fires that start on the ground from spreading up into the trees,” said Sparks.

Fire that is on the ground travels quickly but is easier to fight, he said.

Graham also questioned the trails left over from the Firesmart program.

“My most recent experience with a Firesmart program in my backyard in Porter Creek was anything but pleasant; in fact, it was really, really unpleasant.”

“Firesmarting a piece of property increases access to all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and other vehicles that have a tendency to tear up the turf,” he said.

“We’ll be looking to put barriers in and discourage that as much as possible,” said Sparks.

But some people have said that incorporating Firesmarted areas of land into a city trail system is a good idea.

The program could be made more cost-effective if it were tied to efforts to create a trail system around the city, said Rod Taylor in a separate interview.

“There’s an opportunity to meld fire buffer zones with trail systems,” said Taylor, who operates Uncommon Journeys, a dogsledding adventure company in the Ibex Valley, and also chairs the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

Areas that have been Firesmarted are “the perfect size for a trail,” he said.

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com